On August 14th, voters in Pierce County will go to the polls to vote for Pierce County District Attorney. A primary election in August is an unusual time for an election. Particularly, since we have had so many elections in Wisconsin recently.
This election is an important one for Pierce County, for at stake is who will be the chief law enforcement officer for Pierce County over the next 4 years. This is the role the District Attorney has in the criminal justice system. The District Attorney has the responsibility to independently review the actions of police officers and make the determination of whether or not someone is charged with a crime. This is not a decision the police make. This is the responsibility of the District Attorney. It is not the responsibility to put into the hands of someone with no experience practicing law whatsoever.
This election is not about who puts up the most signs or simply making change for the sake of making a change or bringing in “new blood”. As my friend Jeff Sather recently posted on Facebook, that is not a good way to do business. This is particularly so, given the responsibilities the District Attorney has.
This election should not be about personal attacks. The latest one brought to my attention was that the Sheriff of Pierce County is accusing me of being insensitive to women who have been victimized. She must not realize that I have been on the Board of Directors at Turningpoint in River Falls for the past 6 years, and that I was one of the founding Board members of SART, which provides assistance to victims of sexual assaults. These type of campaign tactics of Mr. Froelich’s supporters are simply designed to deflect attention from the real issues that matter in this election.
As a community, do we want the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in Pierce County to be someone who has served our county in that capacity for 20 years, or someone whose only qualification is that he was a police officer for 3 years?
As a community, do we want to put the District Attorney’s Office in the hands of someone who has never practiced law as a whole, much less in a courtroom?
As a community, if you, or a member of your family, were the victim of a crime, who would you want prosecuting the case? Would it be someone who has effectively prosecuted cases in our county for 20 years, or someone who has never seen the inside of a courtroom as an attorney?
These are the issues that really matter in this election.
This weeks editions of the Pierce County Herald and the River Falls Journal contained the candidate questionaire that myself and Mr. Froelich answered. In his response to one of the questions he referenced the above Council. This is a group that was put together by the Court and it’s purpose is to evaluate the criminal justice system in Pierce County and recommend changes to make the system more efficient and effective. The Council consists of members of the law enforcment community, myself, the court system, the Public Defender’s Office and the Pierce County Department of Human Services. Linda Flanders was hired to act as a coordinator. The report that Mr. Froelich refers to in his response was one that she put together after conducting surveys and interviews. Members on the Council, myself included, questioned her qualifications to conduct such a needs asssessment since she had no significant backround in doing such asssessments.
A professional consulting firm called Moffit and Associates was hired after her report was done, to do a more comprehensive study for the Council. Moffit’s report was over 100 pages long and ws the result of comprehensive interviews with well over 25 agencys in Pierce County that come into contact with the criminal justice system. Moffit’s report directly contradicted the assertions that Mr. Froelich makes in his responses. His assertions about me were only contained in Ms. Flanders report. Moffit’s report described the District Attorney’s Office as operating in a professional manner across the board.
Mr. Froelich neglects to mention that second report at all. This is the report that the Council is currently working off of. He has taken bits and pieces from one report without putting them in a proper context, given that there are 2 reports. His political brochure also contains ideas that were generated by the Council. Particularly, the one on engaging the community and developing programs to address juvenile crime.
Mr. Froelich’s assertions about the report he refers to really need to be scrutinized and questioned, along with the fact of how he even ended up with Ms. Flanders report in the first place, and the fact that he neglects to mention a 2nd report that doesn’t support his claims about me.
He also makes an assertion that sexual offenders are not consistently prosecuted by me. Nothing could be further from the truth. All cases are assessed on an individual basis and prosecuted according to what our burden of proof is. Justice requires each case to be viewed in that manner. We do not engage in a one-size-fits-all approach to prosecuting any case. I have a strict policy that my offce consults with any sexual assault victim before decisions are made on which direction a case may proceed. That has been my policy for 20 years. We strive to fashion out dispositions that are fair to all parties in any given case, including sexual assault cases.
It is not surprising that Mr. Froelich has resorted to focusing on attacking me rather than focusing on outling what qualifications he has to be District Attorney. The real question is what experience does he bring to this position?
As the campaign for District Attorney winds down, my opponent and I are both scheduled to be at the Pierce County Democratic booth at the Pierce County Fair this weekend, as well as being in the parade in Ellsworth.
The thrust of his campaign is his promise to have more communication with law enforcement agencies. He has not articulated what that really means, nor has he articulated any level of experience practicing law or actually handling criminal cases, or really any cases at all. There is no experience in a courtroom that he has provided information on. He claims to have a better working experience and relationship with victims and defendants. But, he doesn’t provide any details on that either. His only experience working with either is 5-6 years ago when he was employed as a police officer for 3 years.
My suggested questions for voters to put to him are as follows:
What experience do you really have that qualifies you to prosecute any type of criminal case?
What experience do you have working with victims of crimes other than in your limited experience as a police officer?
Have you ever worked with a child that has been the victim of a crime? If so, when and what was the extent of your involvment?
What courtroom experience do you have?
Have you ever even had a jury trial?
Have you actually practiced law in a courtroom at all?
What do you mean by having more or better communication with law enforcement agencies?
What will you do, or how will you handle a situation where one of your friends on the River Fall Police Department doesn’t do a thorough and adequate job investigating a given case, will you prosecute someone if their investigation is poor?
What will be your prosecution policies?
Will cases be reviewed from the standpoint of being able to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, as they are now, or will people be subjected to being prosecuted at a lower standard?
Will you be prosecuting people at the urging of your law enforcement friends, even if the evidence doesn’t support or warrant a charge?
How much influence will your friends in law enforcement have on your prosecutorial decisions?
How independent will you be?
What exactly did your part-time experience with the Ellsworth Police Department and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department really consist of? How often did you work at each agency?
Why didn’t you stay employed at the River Falls Police Department?
What is the most serious case you investigated as a police officer?
Why haven’t you worked for any law firm in Wisconsin or Minnesota since you have been licensed in Minnesota since October of 2010?
These are crucial questions that Mr. Froelich or his supporters have not provided any information or detail on. This election is about what is good for Pierce County, not what is good for certain law enforcement officers in the River Falls Police Department and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. I know full well that there are officers in both departments that don’t like me personally and want to see me ousted as District Attorney. There are far more law enforcement officers in this county that want to be able to count on having an experienced District Attorney in office, as opposed to having an inexperienced attorney such as Mr. Froelich acting as District Attorney.
I have confidence and faith that the citizens in Pierce County will not be blinded by the personal vendettas of a minority of law enforcement officers in Pierce County.
In this week’s Pierce County Herald, there were several letters to the editor regarding the election for District Attorney, one of which was written on behalf of Mr. Froelich by Bill Rassmussen.
In that letter, he touts the credentials of my opponent, while at the same time insinuating that I have somehow acted in an unethical manner as District Attorney over the last 20 years. Mr. Rassmussen states that my opponent “understands how to prepare a case for prosecution”. He neglects to share the factual basis for that claim. For example, he doesn’t set forth any experience my opponent may have actually prosecuting cases, such as if he acted as a municipal prosecutor anywhere either in Wisconsin or Minnesota, since he is licensed in both states. In addition, no where in my opponent’s political liturature or Facebook page does he supply any facts regarding any experience actually practicing law in a courtroom. He has only been admitted to practice law in Wisconsin since May 10, 2011. In Minnesota, he was admitted to practice in October, 2010. Does he currently practice law anywhere that brings him into a courtroom trying cases? The clear answer to that appears to be “No”. So, where did he gain the courtroom experience necessary to “prepare a case for presecution” that Mr. Rasmussen claims he has?
If he does in fact have any experience practicing law in a courtroom, what is it? Has he ever even handled a criminal case as a defense attorney? When I first ran for District Attorney 20 years ago in 1992, I had 3 years of trial experience handling felony, misdemeanor, criminal traffic and juvenile cases. What experience does he really have? How will he know how to prepare for and try a complex, violent felony case or a domestic violence case, or a drunk driving case when he has no experience practicing law at all.
Mr. Froelich may have been a police officer under Bill Rasmussen’s tenure at the River Falls Police Department, ( which by the way, it really isn’t clear how long he was even a full time police officer) but that does not translate in having the necessary courtroom skills necessary to prosecute complex criminal cases that occur in our community. As the past few weeks have shown, very serious crimes can occur at any time.
If Mr. Rasmussen wants to challenge my ethics as a prosecutor, perhaps he has some specific instances to back up his allegations and insinuations. In my 20 years tenure as District Attorney, I have never had any cases that I personally prosecuted overturned because of prosecutorial error or misconduct. In addition, the Office of Lawyer Regulation has never determined that I have ever acted in an unethical manner. I have also never had any victim file a complaint with the State Victim Right Board against me. In fact, Ms. London’s letter to the editor in the Herald suggests the opposite of Mr. Rasmussen’s insinuations.
Mr. Rasmussen and others, may not have liked the decisions that I have made as District Attorney in the last 20 years, but that is a far cry from acting “unethically”. If Mr. Rasmussen wants to engage in a debate about acting ethically, perhaps he can discuss why he chose not to disclose that he is actually Mr. Froelich’s treasurer. He is hardly an objective observer. Letters such as his really need to be read with a grain of salt.
With regards to Mr. Dhawan’s letter, suggesting a debate, I would welcome that opportunity to debate Mr. Froelich on any topic. Particularly, his lack of experience. Perhaps he would be able to explain to the voters how someone with no courtroom experience is qualified to act as the chief law enforcment agency in Pierce County. Being an effective prosecutor requires the ability to work in a courtroom. Mr. Froelich has no such skills, at least none that he has shared with the public at this point.
I have two teenagers who are very inquisitive at times, especially my daughter. She helped hand out candy in the River Falls Days Parade. She has often asks me what I do as a District Attorney. My children’s mother is also an attorney and they have come to court with both of us at times. I usually explain that I represent the State of Wisconsin and that the law in Wisconsin does not allow me to have clients like their mom does. I tell them that I prosecute ( which I usually have to explain what that means) people for committing crimes in Pierce County, whether they are adults or juveniles.
Sometimes they have asked me if I represent people who are guilty and I have to explain to them that I don’t. Our conversations are quite interesting from the standpoint of how people,even children, view the role of a District Attorney.
The role I have in the criminal justice system is essentially one of reviewing the actions of law enforcment and making decisions on who gets charged with what particular crime, if at all. It is a role that involves a great deal of discretion and as a prosecutor, I am not simply an advocate for one side or another. Prosecutors are literally to act as ministers of justice. That sounds kind of corny and most defendants don’t always see it that way. Justice really is about treating people fairly. Sometimes justice requires the filing of a criminal charge, even if a victim doesn’t want to see that happen. In 20 years, I have had countless instances where a victim, usually in a domestic violence case, say they want to “drop charges” or not “press charges”. This is terminology that is simply fiction. Unfortunately, people believe that is how the “system” works, including law enforcment officers at times.
The decision of who gets charged is a decison that ethically, I make solely from the standpoint of do we believe we can prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest burden of proof in our legal system. There are court cases in Wisconsin going all the way back to the late 1800’s that spell out that the duty of a District Attorney is to examine all the facts and circumstances connected with a given case and act with sound discretion in making charging decisions.
In the age of information that we live in, decisions on charging someone with a crime carry even more importance. Charging someone with a crime can have a lifelong impact on them. It is not a decision to make lightly. On the other hand, there are circumstances in the interest of community safety where criminal charges are warranted, regardless of the impact on the person charged.
I know full well in 20 years that there are charging decisions I have made that were not popular decisions. But, most difficult decisions are not.
As my daughter and I were putting up signs Saturday morning, we stopped at a business in River Falls and the owner made the comment that is the topic of this post. After the horrifc week of 4 homicides in one week, his comment rang true in terms of the River Falls community. In 20 years as District Attorney, I have not seen a circumstance where a community such as River Falls has had a week like we have had. The turnout after the rainshower was amazing to say the least. The River FAlls Police Departmetn deserves much credit for their work in investigating all of these homicides. The investigators that worked on these cases were experienced and diligent. Eric Johnson, The St. Croix County District Attorney has 30 years experience as a pprosecutor, while I have 20 years experience. Both of us have had experience prosecuting homicides. When these types of horrific crimes occur, our communities need experienced law enforcment officers and prosecutors to handle them. It is my hope that in time our community will heal from this week. If Friday night’s turnout in River Falls is any indication, we indeed will.
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